Fiction Leaking Into Life

By Brenda Clough
This past Christmas season, we drove north on I-81, which runs up the spine of Virginia to the town of Winchester.  This burg is of note because, along about 9-11, I selected a motel near the interstate junction and printed off three copies of their web page, with address, phone numbers, directions, etc.  The idea was that, when bin Laden contrived the dirty-nuke strike on the Pentagon, we had a predetermined rendezvous point, west of the (presumably radioactive) city but not so far as to be unreachable. The photocopies are (or were) stuffed into the glove compartment of all three family vehicles; during this last drive I searched my husband’s glove box and discovered it has been mislaid.  The plan is to do it again, probably in spring when I can personally stuff the photocopy into my son’s car — I am certain he has lost his copy too, which would leave me as the only person at the rendezvous point.

Now, this is so the way an SF reader thinks.  Years of reading Pournelle and Heinlein and so forth affect your thinking. (I also have a stash of MREs and an unreasonable amount of bottled water.)  I am sure that we all have other examples of this type of bleedover from fiction into real life.  And of course this is not limited to SF.  Horror fans know perfectly well that you do NOT split up the group when you are in the creepy house. What do romance readers apply in their real lives?  Fantasy?

My newest novel Speak to Our Desires is out exclusively from Book View Press.

I also have stories in Book View Cafe’s two steampunk anthologies, The Shadow Conspiracy and The Shadow Conspiracy II, as well as in BVC’s many other anthologies.



About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires. Her novel A Most Dangerous Woman is being serialized by Serial Box. Her novel The River Twice is newly available from BVC.


Fiction Leaking Into Life — 10 Comments

  1. Actually, I think romance readers are more aware of the sheer fantasy of their fiction. 🙂 I remember a discussion online some years ago, on a romance board, where everyone pretty much agreed that if some guy who seemed to be anything like about 90% of the romance dudes in books ever showed up at one of our doors, we’d slam it in his face, throw the deadbolt, and dial 911. ‘Cause seriously, these guys are whacked, LOL! There’s a huge difference between a hot fantasy and the guy you honestly want to spend your life (or even a night) with.

    And thinking about it, I think that’s a pretty valuable lesson to learn from your fiction.


  2. Romance is not alone in this; the stage is full of loser men. I was listening to GUYS & DOLLS as I was driving in today. How many women married creeps today, in the hope of changing him tomorrow as the song advises?

  3. I think that was a more common expectation a couple of generations ago. Or at least, I heard more “advice” and jokes and such about it (He’s the perfect husband — everything I always wanted to change in a man) back when. Now, it seems most people have figured out that what you marry (or whatever) is what you get, and that if anything he/she will likely relax a bit as the relationship matures.

    Maybe it’s a reflection of women today having more power and agency than in the 50s and thereabouts? A single life is much more viable for a woman now than it was then, and waiting to marry is more often seen as a choice as opposed to having no opportunities. Another common joke/trope/device used back when was the girl who would, or was advised to, marry any man who asked her because it might be her only chance, with the unspoken assumption that of course she had to marry someone. Being able to wait for someone you actually like, right now, as they are, without being mocked or pitied for being single means that “Marry him now, change him later” is no longer seen as smart advice.


  4. Over on Goodreads there is a discussion of THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO. Why didn’t Edmond Dantes’ fiancee wait for him, instead of marrying some other guy? Dumas doesn’t even discuss it, because at that time there was no other option. A woman could not be single; if she didn’t select someone her father or brother would do it for her — it would be their duty, since otherwise she would be destitute. We do not realize, baby, what a long way we have come.

  5. This is why I have trouble reading Jane Austen. It makes me heartsick to follow stories about bright, competent women marrying people who are not worthy of them because better a miserable marriage than a life with no financial support. (This is not commentary on Austen, who was accurately describing her world, but on the society itself.)

    A long way, indeed.

  6. I have just begin reading MAN AND WIFE, by Wilkie Collins (better known for THE MOONSTONE and THE WOMAN IN WHITE). After inventing the detective novel Collins joined his pal Dickens in harnessing fiction in the cause of social reform. MAN AND WIFE is about the wildly abusive marriage laws in areas of the UK at the time; essentially a man could marry, loot all his wife’s assets, and then ditch her. The novel is highly melodramatic (you would think there were no decent men left in Britain, the way these women fall into the arms of cads) but apparently was carefully researched and quite accurate.

  7. Brenda — exactly, her needing to marry someone was a given and no one would’ve questioned it at that time, or even thought about it. [nod]

    Nancy Jane — I agree; the part in P&P when Charlotte married Mr. Collins always makes me wince. He wasn’t a bad guy, just… a very skewed set of social skills, let’s say. He’s a perfect suck-up to the higher-ups, combined with an over-inflated sense of his own importance because of his acquaintance with said higher-ups, which all makes him intolerable to anyone who’s not a higher-up being fawned on. His willingness to marry one of the Bennet sisters, considering their mutual circumstances, was admirable I think. I’m sure he meant well and saw himself as a good man, but personally, if I had to marry him, there’d have been a shallow grave in the backyard within a week. :/

    Brenda again — Man and Wife sounds like an interesting read; thanks for the mention.


  8. P&P can be read as an analysis of marriage of the period — Austen thinking about it on paper. (Significantly, the author herself stayed unwed.) The problem is delineated at the beginning: the Bennett girls must marry, or starve. Furthermore, in the very first sentence of the book, we are informed that all agency lies with the man — the girls have no cards to play except their youth (= fertility), prettiness, and personality.
    The female characters exemplify all the options. Mrs. Bennett marries a man who crucially fails her in the crisis (ensuring the livelihood of their offspring — Mr. Bennett himself admits he should have done better). Harsh compromises are made — Lydia marries a rat; Charlotte marries a creep; Mary is left on the shelf. Only Lizzie and Jane roll double sixes in the marriage gamble.

  9. Brenda — agree. [nod] Mrs. Bennett comes across, on the surface, as a silly, vulgar, grasping woman without a lot of brains or manners, and there’s some truth to all of that. But at the same time, once her husband dies (and he could be run over by a hay wagon tomorrow for all she knows) she and her five daughters are out on the street. Her desperation to get them married is very understandable if you think about it (which too many modern readers, or at least too many people who watch the movies but don’t know much about the period, don’t), and in fact is the only intelligent attitude to have. And looking for a rich man for at least one of them, aside from having her daughters be rich rather than poor being a good thing, means that at least one son-in-law would be able to support his wife’s mother if she survives her husband. Marrying all five of them to poor men wouldn’t help Mrs. Bennett under those circumstances.

    And yes, Mr. Bennett comes across as a nice guy who understands Lizzie (again, a surface judgement a lot of readers and movie watchers will make), but he’s a lousy father when it comes to fulfilling his responsibilities.


  10. There were no social services to support a suddenly-widowed Mrs. B and the girls. Their only option, after that unfortunate encounter of Mr. B with the hay wagon, would be selling their needlework or prostitution. At least marrying, even a rat or a creep, means one man rather than many.